My Facebook has been flooded with "thankfulness" posts for the past week. And while I love the reminder to be thankful, I also know what it's like to feel more darkness than joy this time of year. Sometimes you know there are many things to be grateful for, but there are also pains and worries and injustices that cut like a knife. Sometimes it's hard to find gratitude because the darkness seems to be closing in too quickly. Sometimes all you can feel is the cold.
That's why I love Christmas trees.
Last year, I was two months pregnant at this time. I was teaching full time, and the short, chilly days were catching up with me. Once the joyous Thanksgiving whirlwind died down, I just felt dark and lonely. I spent a lot of time at home alone while my husband coached in the evenings. I was more exhausted than I have ever been. There was so much uncertainty. There was so much to do--finishing up a semester, giving and grading exams, holiday gift buying and traveling. I was so tired.
And then we bought our Christmas tree. Though I could barely stumble out of bed some mornings, I would get up and plug in the lights. Then after school as the night fell and I dove into piles and piles of papers to grade, I plugged it in again. With those lights on, I felt wrapped in warmth and peace. I felt hope. The little ornaments--reminders of the past--glowed in the warm, yellow light. I remembered the yearly placing of those ornaments on the tree. I loved the visible portrayal of our marriage on that tree--of two sets of ornaments becoming one. More importantly, I was reminded of Advent--the Coming of Christ.
The little glimpse of hope a lit Christmas tree gives me that there will soon be time to rest, that I will soon be with family, that there are so many good and beautiful things in the world points to a much grander hope that Christ's coming brings.
As our pastor pointed out yesterday, Matthew begins and ends with the reminder that Jesus is God with us (Matthew 1:23, 28:20). He is ruler of all--even our pain and suffering are beneath him. And the lights of the Christmas tree and the joys connected with each ornament remind me of the Light of the world who comes to "make his blessings flow far as the curse is found."
It's now December 2. We are bombarded with Christmas on Facebook, on blogs, and all around us. This time of year isn't always an easy time. The days are dark and often cold. Time with family may bring more pain than joy. There's the realization of a year ending and all that wasn't accomplished.
But I look at the brightly lit tree with all its significant reminders, and I feel hope. Christ came and took all the pain and suffering and then placed it beneath him. There is promise that one day all will be made new.
Yesterday, our pastor talked about how Christ suffers death but in doing so, conquers it. Christ takes something that has conquered every human being, and he conquers even it. The pastor asked, "If He can make death a good thing, what can't He do?!" What a great reminder for me as I look at our tree, as I think of the joys and triumphs of the past years and all the ones before it, and as I look in hope to the future.
I love the Christmas season. As soon as Thanksgiving ends, I turn on the Christmas music. I love the decorations and the red cups at Starbucks and the Advent candles each week at church. But I generally try to keep our home and schedule simple. I try to spend lots of time soaking in the lights of the tree, delighting in the little things, and resting as I contemplate Christ's coming. Here are some resources for you as you try to do the same.
- In the evenings, we are reading John Piper's Good News of Great Joy. You can download it for free from the Desiring God website.
- Our church gave printed copies of this guide years ago. I love going through it during Advent.
- This blog post is a huge encouragement to not only moms but anyone who has great responsibility and busyness during the holidays. I love the advice that "If it makes you yell, it's a No. Every time." Good stuff!
- Savior is my all-time favorite CD of Christmas songs. After being together for six holiday seasons now, my husband gets just as excited as I do when I turn it on again (which I did for the first time while making this white chicken chili Saturday night)! Each song has a distinctive holiday feel and wonderful lyrics. If you want something fresh to listen to this season, give it a try! I think you can also get it from Amazon.